Keeping it together. Feet first.

The first thing I notice about people is how they walk, stand or move. You can forgive me for that considering that I’ve been a professional dancer most of my adult life. It is not about how someone makes an entrance; it is the gait, the way they hold their shoulders and back, how crisp their steps are, how they are standing. A bad day shows up when someone walks into a room. Tension and stress can make your neck and shoulders tight, the smile a little taut. A good day can put that bounce into you step.

Let me start at the foundation of it all: feet. Feet are of great concern when you are a dancer. And falling arches are not a surprising diagnosis for someone who has been stamping, jumping and sliding on concrete and marble floors for most of her life. Actually high arches are considered to be a sign of beauty in many cultures and flat-footed souls are told they can never become athletes. Funny. Shrimati Lalitha Shastri, (my Guru’s Guru and therefore mine), had completely flat feet and she was a wonderful dancer. In fact, there was a time that you could avoid military service if you had flat feet. Thank God that there is no draft anymore because that would no longer be considered a reason to not be included. Flat feet have achieved many a feat.

New discovery, (well, it was for me at least): A podiatrist is a doctor that specializes in the feet. I learnt that only after coming to the States. I certainly had need of one. However, when a podiatrist says that nothing above the ankle is in his jurisdiction, well, it makes one think: Really? Aren’t the feet and ankles connected to the knees, which are connected to the pelvic, which in turn has much to do with the spine? Doctors may specialize in one body part but people do not have that luxury. We have to keep all those different joints, muscles and parts working together. We specialize in one thing: trying to figure out our continually wondrous and exasperating bodies. Why were we not sent down with a “how to fix” manual and some spare parts?

Have you ever thought of how much weight is borne by those two little feet with very little surface space? It’s enough to make one wish one still leapt about on all fours. Thank God they don’t bind feet anymore, whether in China or elsewhere. Those bound feet smelled because the skin began to rot. They were very painful because the circulation of blood was being stopped with the tight bandages. And then they were far too small with the structure of the foot was so broken that the feet could not really function.

The first thing to do when you finally start paying attention to your feet is to get a couple of really good pairs of walking shoes with supportive soles to save the feet from the hard tarmac we have evolutionarily not adapted to yet. The shoes have to cushion the heels against the impact as one takes a step forward and the give the toes enough space to spread as the weight shifts onto the front and one definitely needs arch support. The engineering of one’s foot and walk demand this respect from us because it isn’t changing anytime soon. Just take a look at the slow motion clips from the Olympic track and field events. Note the impact that shows with the whole face moving with each step, something I find most fascinating. Okay, most of us are not training at that level every day; but with each little step, your skeleton is jarred and the joints and tendons suffer wear and tear that is unavoidable. Those long distance runners who came from tribes in Africa to begin with, had it a little better in some ways. They ran on natural soil, not roads.

In dance our body is jarred a hundred times a day. We jump high, we scoop low, we twist and turn and push our bodies to an extreme, all to produce beautiful movement and emotion; but what excuse do the runners I see on the street have when they throw out their feet sideways, hunch over their shoulders, flap their arms around and stick their necks out? Well, they have not come to dance class where the first thing we do is work on fixing your posture so that you carry your skeleton around in a better way, saving your feet a little, all day long.

Of course, so much of posture is to do with the shoes that people wear and, oh, those high high heels! I can understand them being worn for a short period, (I’m not immune to fashion fun), but I see too many women walking around in these ridiculous four-inch-and-more heels for many hours a day. They will most surely regret it when they hit their fifties because their spines will have been effected and by then there is not much you can do about it. Not that those flat sandals and slippers so in vogue give you any better protection from hard walking surfaces either.

The latest fad in the gym is to wear the separated toe athletic shoes. I think these are useful even if they feel really strange initially and take some getting used to. They give you a better balance when you are lifting weights and doing any core building exercises. They help your feet to flex the natural way when you run. I do believe they will get better in design, though, with a little more padding and arch support. In the meantime they should be worn with the accompanying toe socks, especially if you have feet that sweat.

For those of us dancing in bare feet, of course, there is nothing better than a proper sprung floor; something we rarely get even while it is a necessity. You would be amazed at the surfaces I have had to dance on. On the other hand, ballet dancers do not fare much better. Their feet get mis-shappen due to their toe shoes. Tap dancers, Irsh dancers, folk dancers; you can hear dancers who wear shoes moan all the time because of blisters and pinched toes. There is no easy way to dance. Some dancers plunge their feet into cold icy water after a performance to halt inflammation but this is a living invitation to arthritis. So, most of the time, we just forget about our feet and dance.

Since you are reading this, don’t forget to check out the photograph of our feet after an Artscape performance (TMDC dancers), on The TMDC Facebook fan page. Once you see it, you’ll know why you shouldn’t miss it.

When you wake up next morning and lower your feet to the ground, don’t forget to say a ‘thank you’ to them, and treat them with respect and, yes, some reverence throughout the day. If your feet smile, your face will brighten up too!



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